Program works to integrate Spanish-speaking program
By Mari Kanagy, Co-Content Editor
In order to provide more support for Spanish-speaking families on the island, a local program is connecting community members to important services. Hispanic and Latino Outreach and Human Services, a program run by Vashon Youth and Family Services (VYFS), is working to become a consistent, reliable resource center for these minority families.
The program was first created last December by Mariela Franco, VYFS Human Resource Manager and Latino Outreach Manager, a few months after being hired by VYFS. The program was initially integrated into McMurray Middle School. Prior to the program, there were few resources available to help Spanish-speaking families connect with the school.
“What we are really wanting to do is work for the Latinx population on the island and provide services that they need,” VYSF executive director Carol Goertzel said.
Franco spoke to the program’s goal of uniting the often-separated groups on Vashon.
“Right now, we have the Latino community, then the rest of the Vashon community,” Franco said. “What we’re trying to do is bring everyone into one place.”
Originally, the program focused solely on outreach. They worked with Spanish-speaking families to gain a better understanding of their needs. Now that they’ve increased their experience and funding — the program is currently funded through VYFS grants, community donations, and a contract with the district — they provide a wide range of services.
“It starts with listening,” Franco said. “We call [Latinx families] to meetings, and we listen to what they need, and we connect them to the services in whatever way we can support them.”
One of the program’s first tasks was in creating a better way for monolingual, Spanish-speaking families to understand what was happening within the school and the needs of their student. Franco worked with McMurray Middle School principal Greg Allison to create a system in which Spanish-speaking families had better access to this information.
The program helps to translate school documents, improve communication with parents, and help facilitate a better understanding of the school system by setting up emails or Skyward portals for families who didn’t previously have them.
As well as advocating for underserved Spanish-speaking families, the program also works with the families directly, helping them to gain access to more complex support systems such as transportation, medical expense aid, and legal counsel for families in need.
Another branch of the program sets up scholarship opportunities for elementary students to join Vashon Kids, a before- and after-school care-providing organization. The scholarships allow students to attend the service regardless of their families’ income. The money often goes towards Latino community members, with a specialized effort towards families who are solely Spanish-speaking.
“Often parents, not only, but especially the Latinx parents, are working so many jobs and so many different hours,” Goertzel said.
The program translated VYFS information in order to make information more available for Spanish-speakers and to break down language barriers within the community.
“[Some] Latinos [on island] don’t speak any English, so we have people now that speak Spanish, and we can provide services in both languages,” Franco said.
When creating the program, it was important to organizers that it contain strong Spanish-speakers, as well as those from a variety of cultures. Currently there are eight Spanish-speakers involved, with at least one in each branch of the program.
“It’s really important to have people on staff who are bilingual but also people who are bicultural,” Goertzel said.
The program has gained support from the broader community, receiving donations and partnership offers from companies and groups on the island.
“The response from the community has been absolutely incredible,” Goertzel said. “We’re just trying to be connectors and listeners, and then implement those ideas.”
In the coming years, the program is looking to expand its influence by starting work within the high school and by setting up a volunteer tutoring program for bilingual students in need of more assistance with school work.
“The more you start to talk to people, and the more you start to meet needs … more needs will come to you,” Goertzel said.